This country residence experienced a dramatic shift in character, a liberating change that harmonized the property with its distinctive surrounding landscape. Nestled among vineyards, the previous design was a cluttered traditional perennial garden, with mismatched materials and impervious surfaces. Now, the tailored garden projects a contemporary and refined tone. Its connection to the adjacent agrarian environment is reinforced through swaths of grasses, seasonal color and strategic circulation that offers views of vines and rolling hills.
Site and Context Investigation
The project involved the creation of a one-acre garden in conjunction with the renovation of a single-family residence and guesthouse in the heart of the Northern California wine country. Vineyards surround the site. Impervious surfaces, including a tennis court, putting green and exposed-aggregate paving covered a majority of the site. The garden was irrigation-intensive, primarily turf grass and boxwood. Numerous hedges prevented easy circulation around the site. Views were blocked from all parts of the property with sheds, fencing, arbors and tall hedges.
Summer heat is intense at the site. Through repeated site visits, the landscape architect discovered the prevalence of afternoon breezes coming off the western hills. This site factor influenced the creation and location of an outdoor pavilion. The previous exterior design was entirely replaced, with the exception of existing mature olive trees. The client required a garden that would be restful and modern, with a strong relationship to the architecture and the surrounding landscape.
Design Program and Intent
1. The design was intended to create a serene and contemporary environment. The garden needed to have visual interest but remain uncluttered. Tree bosques, allees and hedges, combined with clear axial circulation, divide the garden space into large blocks. Massed plantings within these sections create a sense of scale that visually enlarges the space. Visitors are aware of the expansiveness of the site, but the layout insures that not all of the garden can be seen at once. The plan encourages visitors to discover more by walking out into the property. Colors and textures are harmonious, not clashing. The color palette is subdued and avoids bright colors. The custom plaster tint of the pool creates a restful deep blue azure color. Accents include plant color and texture such as Blue Lyme Grass.
2. The design needed to incorporate the wine country characteristics into the garden. Views to the immediate surrounding vineyards were developed in all directions. Also, farther views to the hillsides were preserved and opened up, so that visitors are constantly aware of the significance of place. Vistas were enhanced by removing sheds, fencing and water-loving trees; and by the positioning of new paths and tree bosques. The roofline of the pavilion was field-adjusted to harmonize with the valley’s ridgeline in the distance.
Three long rows of vines outline the eastern edge of the garden and are glimpsed at arrival. The outdoor pavilion frames a vista of acres of Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. The blocks of grasses are reminiscent of agrarian fields, moving in the wind and showing seasonal variations. When fall comes to the valley, the color of the adjacent vineyards is echoed in the trees and grasses on site.
3. The design required a strong integration with the architecture. Concurrent with the new landscape design, the main house and guesthouse underwent extensive renovations to simplify colors and finishes, remove excess ornamentation, increase natural light and provide better access to the outdoors.
The strong partnership between the client, landscape architect and architect resulted in a unified aesthetic. The team collaborated to insure a seamless visual and physical transition from the interior to the exterior. The clients’ restrained color palette of silver, smoky gray and amethyst accents inspired the paving selection of a warm gray domestic limestone, the seasonal colors of the ornamental grasses and the deep azure hue of the renovated pool.
The garden plan’s main paths were based on the architectural centerlines. For instance, the property’s strong central axis extends north-south from the home’s main foyer. The landscape architect and architect worked together on the design of new solar shading at the main house, resulting in clean-lined cantilevered arbors that did not require plants for shading. The team also collaborated on the design and siting of the outdoor pavilion, producing a simple, airy structure that sits unobtrusively in the garden.
Surfaces: The site’s impervious surfaces were reduced by almost 70%. Permeable gravel paths and low-maintenance, drought-tolerant plantings now cover most of the outdoor area.
Water: Reducing water use was a driving factor in the design. The water used by irrigation decreased by 25%, despite the total planted area increasing in size by 22%. Irrigation use was reduced with the elimination of the previous turf lawns and the use of ornamental grasses and Mediterranean plants.
Storm water: The new design increased the amount of storm water retained on site by directing run off to infiltration areas instead of to a piped drainage system. The flat site was a challenge to drain properly, but careful grading by the landscape architect, assisted in the field with the stonemason, conducted storm water from paving to designated dispersal areas.
Plantings: The landscape architect consulted with a nationally recognized meadow specialist when selecting grasses most compatible with the climate, soil, drought tolerance goals and aesthetic direction. Nine different grass species were used in the meadow and interwoven in large swaths. The site’s songbird population has noticeably increased, likely due to the attraction of ornamental grass seeds and increased tree cover.
Solar control: Summer conditions were improved by the addition of an arbor at the main residence and the use of deciduous trees to provide shade at the site’s structures. The landscape architect sited the new pavilion to take advantage of late-afternoon cooling breezes.